Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World Review: Steve Carell’s Search For Something That Matters Has Meaning
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In less than a month a 70-mile long asteroid will slam into Earth and send a fireball around the globe, wiping out all life on our planet. There is no hope of survival. While the important and the wealthy and the interesting rush around looking for distractions in a world where nothing matters, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World follows the journey of an insignificant and boring man who sets out to find meaning.
At first, Dodge (Steve Carell) keeps going to work. His wife left him the moment she found out they were all doomed and he hopes to find comfort in the familiarity of routine. But there’s not much use for an insurance salesman when no one will be left to collect. So eventually, he gives up and stays home. It’s entirely possible that Dodge would have sat alone in his darkened living room and simply waited for the death if he hadn’t met Penny, the British girl downstairs who seems like she needs saving. They set out together on a journey to find Dodge’s long lost high school girlfriend, with Penny tagging along on the promise that her new friend may have a way to fly her home.
Along the way they encounter humanity in its death throes, people at both their best and their worst, doing their last bit of living. They’ll encounter moments of beauty and depravity in a world that at times seems too full and at others seems suddenly all too empty. Along the way Seeking a Friend ends up being not so much about the end of the world as it is about what happens when nothing anyone does matters. Some people push on and keep doing their jobs, looking for normalcy in a world that’s no longer normal. Others go of the deep end, rioting and pillaging and burning their way through what’s left of their life. Fathers start drinking with their kids, otherwise faithful wives begin attending orgies. Why not try some heroin? It’s not like it matters if it does permanent damage.
Penny and Dodge don’t make much sense together. He’s an aging insurance salesman who’s never done anything with his life, she’s a free spirit who may have done too much. Carell and Knightley are fantastic, in completely different ways. They never really fit together and truth be told, don’t have much chemistry. Somehow that seems right, that seems real, in this dark time and place. Desperate for something, anything, two people who have no connection come together in a way they probably never would have… if anything mattered.
Early on the movie and its characters try to keep track. There’s a countdown, reminding us every now and then, of just how many days humanity has left. At some point though, around the same time that Dodge and Penny start to stop caring about it themselves, the ticking clock is abandoned leaving their final moments as something which exists almost outside of time. They don’t, of course, and its inevitable that time will run out.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is haunting and thought-provoking. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s film is both funny and wrenching, mixing genuine moments of beautiful humanity with the ridiculous and extreme as Dodge and Penny travel across the landscape of our doom. Once we know it’s over, the world becomes incredibly simple. Scafaria takes advantage of that simplicity build a story out of the quiet moments between two characters watching as a unique society full of color and variation fades away around them. Before it all goes away, Penny and Dodge hope they’ll find something, anything that still means something. Whether they actually find it before end, or have in fact just talked themselves into accepting a passable facsimile to keep themselves sane, is the only question you’ll be left wondering after it’s all over.
Unlike other end of the world movies, focused around unrelatable characters or important people who have no connection to the life around you, Seeking examines what happens to someone normal faced with something beyond his ability to handle. It connects in a way the average, high-minded art film like last year’s Melancholia just can’t. See Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and probably walk out utterly depressed. That feeling is a good kind of melancholy, the kind that makes you look around and find the meaning in the world we have around us. Maybe it’ll all end tomorrow, if it does, find something that matters and hold on to it. That’s what Dodge and Penny would do.